Friday, March 8, 2019

Chinese Moral Economy - Artificial Intelligence

Chinese Moral Economy - Artificial Intelligence

Sharing Power Point Slides on the Chinese Moral Economy of Artificial Intelligence. Brief, maybe of interest.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Review Essay of Melinda Cooper's book Family Values (Cultural Studies)


Released on line from Cultural Studies at

Public policy case studies in reactionary politics: why US Cultural Studies needs political economy

Family values: between neoliberalism and the new social conservatism, by Melinda Cooper, New York, Zone Books, 2017, 416 pp., $29.95 (hardcover), ISBN 9781935408840

Melinda Cooper’s Family Values could be a wake up call to Cultural Studies as it has been practiced in the United States since the mid-1990s. In this book Cooper offers a descriptive critique of how US liberal democracy was consciously reconfigured by reactionary public policy politics and legislation, generating a national culture that has lurched into the current narrowing miasma of concentrated, anti-liberal political economy. In her detailed exploration of the ways US culture took its lengthy right-wing political turn over 45 years, Cooper describes the ‘reinstitutionalization’ (p. 295) of structures that had been incorrectly assumed by liberals and progressives to be the fabric of US life. In detailing this shift in culture, Cultural Studies receives not a mention, while the field of culture itself is barely explicitly elaborated, with the exception of one reference to ‘culture wars’ (p. 22). This suggests a major discontinuation between the operational spaces of US public policy and US Cultural Studies.

Cooper explores public policy through the lens-making machinery of The State and non-state actors such as think tanks and public intellectuals (including Milton Friedman and Gary Becker). In doing this, she connects the less known aspects of post-Fordism with the rise of family responsibility within the intersection of economics and evangelical fundamentalism. She highlights an intentional intersectionality on the part of activist conservatives that combined into what can be described as post-Fordist family fundamentalism. This intersection was promoted, as Cooper highlights, alongside charity as part of an anti-welfare, anti-statist conservatism: all aimed at generating neo-liberal hegemony as the only alternative to a welfare-based model of liberal democracy. Meanwhile, against this focus of Cooper’s, US Cultural Studies appears to have been disabled by a misdirected disarticulationofculturefrompublicpolicyandmorespecificallypoliticaleconomy,a concern to which I will return later in this review. In Family Values the intersection of political economy with public policy making is writ large–often in ways that are shocking, as Cooper’s research shows the programmatic focus of liberal and conservative, neo-liberal and neo-conservative intellectuals in actively unmaking an open and tolerant liberal-progressive US society.

Unfortunately,Cooper’s book shows evidence of little effective resistance,even when it took on the form of dedicated opposition. The notable victorious exception being the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACTUP) response to the US Government’s refusal to take public health action during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. And while there is little to be gained in raking over the ashes of many policy defeats, the evidence Cooper presents for the success of neo-liberalism and the right in general makes it clear how a well-orchestrated ideological program simply rolled over progressive goals with reactionary public policy orchestrations.

Indeed, the systematic undoing of Roosevelt’s New Deal and Johnson’s Great Society policies is the core around which the book revolves, identifying the alliances – now well known – between a few determined thinkers whose astuteness was not so much in their ideas, but in how they waited until all the political pieces were in place to enact their claims on ‘freedom.’

The question, of course, is how freedom is constituted. Cooper argues that in its US meaning,it has been reconstructed through policies that forced the enactment of the private family as the centerpiece of the intellectual, social, economic and cultural world. In fact, every avenue of human activity was the target of the philosophical adventure the right set upon, remaking the imagination around a sanctified nucleated family responsible entirely for its own welfare and continuance. Using emotional, traditional and religious language in association with claims for emancipation and in favor of a cruelty they would not name, they constructed an affective structure.

Against this program, nobody offered much opposition to centralizing the family as the moral and economic unit of existence. In detailing the policy shifts that ‘sought to revive the traditions of private responsibility’ (p. 22), Cooper connects reactionary ideology with sentimental soft-headedness and nostalgia, best exemplified in the California Governorship and then the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. Centralizing the family meant pulling away the humanizing systems of public support that liberals and progressives had built, redirecting the preferred energy of society into an individualism championed most notably by Rose and Milton Friedman. These two, along with Gary Becker and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, innovated a public policy deconstruction program that stretched from the 1960s, interweaving market-focused economic studies with sexuality, family life, religion, and a moralistic public policy belligerence that consulted few citizens, and when pressed called on the mythologizing images of invented tradition. As a concept, it is well deployed by Cooper, drawing on the English historian Eric Hobsbawm’s The Invention of Tradition, to illustrate how most social life is the result of socially constructed ideas translated into the dominant ideology of everyday culture, as Althusser showed the world in his explanation of the Institutional State Apparatus (ISA).

All of this US backwardness was enhanced by a self-satisfied belief in American exceptionalism, a kind of precursor to the current situation, in which the America First of MAGA (Make America Great Again) calls on a culture based on the imaginary of religious faith embedded in economic rules that drive everyone – and I mean everyone – away from collective interests (unless its sport and maybe party politics) to the bosom of the family. As such, Cooper argues in a welcome application of Michel Foucault, that ‘moral exclusion zones’ were established by conservative elites to police, discipline, control and suppress public life, and the sense that liberality could be normalized.

For Cooper, almost no recent US political figure escapes opprobrium for their role in the de-liberalization of American life. In doing so, her historiography draws on political economy’s critical traditions, meaning a historical materialism informed by Marxism and institutional sociology focused on the interface of policy documents and intellectual history. Importantly, she documents negative social movements – in these cases, a strategic program of interlinked activities aimed at winding back progressive liberalism.

Her approach explores the development of the neo-conservative movement in its articulation with the capitalist preference for a kind of liberalism that is all encompassing and affective; promising ‘freedom’ within the fantasy of US democracy, yet really operating under increasing constraints managed by ‘older and wiser’ white homo-economicus males. Frankly, I would suggest that academics on the right have studied and used affect much more effectively and efficiently than those on the left, because their affective cause is pre-defined by their daily experience and success with marketing propaganda. Their magic potion has been in orchestrating affect within capitalism alone. Conservatives, especially Republicans, have manipulated public discourse for most Americans, socializing the population into the uncontested belief that the business way of life alone is supreme and totally normal.

Around this converged field of relentless yet limiting affect, conservatives built their family focus, exemplified by the Focus on the Family organization, the conservative activist group that used media to paint pictures of the worthy domestic Christian life. Closely drawing the line around economics and individual responsibility within the family, the conservative movement corralled the moral universe of neo-liberalism and neoconservatism within a reconstituted affect that Lauren Berlant somewhat tepidly referred to in Cruel Optimism (2011) as ‘the fraying relation between post-Second World War state/economic practices and certain postwar fantasies of the good life’ (p. 15). Cooper makes it clear that the disarticulation between the good life and the welfare state in the US was much more than fraying; it was the systematic cauterizing of liberal and progressive public policy combined with a succession of successful negative social movements.

Conservatives achieved this through the missing ingredient in this book – media control that operated as public propaganda. All the policy documents marrying Milton Friedman’s histrionics with neoconservatism would have been far less successful if liberal, progressive and left opponents had understood and effectively utilized the media as a countervailing force. They didn’t, despite protestations from conservatives about ‘liberal Hollywood,’ while the likes of William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan made multiple appearance on television, speaking directly to the domestic family to reinforce the righteousness of the inward looking, horizon shrinking, unit of economic self-management.

Despite this criticism, Cooper shows how reactionaries went about politicizing religion while building their anti-welfare, pro-family ideology. Her take on Fordism and its undoing draws the startling cruel connection between the enactment of the white male as head of the nuclear household and breadwinner, against black people and their culture:

the Fordist family wage not only functioned as a mechanism for the normalization of gender and sexual relationships, but it also stood at the heart of the midcentury organization of labor, race, and class, defining African American men by their exclusion from the male breadwinner wage and African American women by their delegation to agricultural and domestic labor in the service of white households. (p. 8)

Clearly, there is no point in being nostalgic for Fordism! In addition, she makes it clear that black attitudes to sexuality, the family and marriage were disciplined in ways that robbed them (again) of the dignity of their culture, forcing them into economic independence, remade as a Christian virtue, as the welfare system was undone – most notably by President Bill Clinton. This kind of program was foregrounded on an understanding of English poor laws, with claims that they offered state sustenance for the unworthy, while those same laws insisted on criminalizing unmarried sex. President Clinton seemed to do all he could to continue the momentum of reducing welfare and privileging responsible family life with home ownership. All the while boosting a type of neoliberal capitalism as the solution white males proposed against unwieldy black women who took welfare while having children devoid of present fathers.

Furthermore, Cooper shows how inherited wealth was repositioned within the ideological frame of entitlements for the already white deserving majority, in ‘the reassertion of the private family as a critical economic institution and a portal to social legitimacy’(p.123). Nexus after nexus,block after block, the pieces were put together in public policy white papers and think tanks, then translated into legislation, while the numbers of people attending churches that promoted the prosperity gospel grew (especially more recently), providing the well-manicured psychic short-circuiting of a culture in which these days many millions of Americans rejoice with Donald Trump’s every word.

The selection of case study documents in Family Values shows how public policy found sustenance from leading intellectuals on the right. This is particularly startling in the chapter about the AIDS crisis where Cooper exposes the reader to some of the least worthy moral assertions made by otherwise rational agents. Especially startling is her description of the contributions made by Judge Richard Posner, who argued that AIDS was the result of promiscuity and that the state should minimize social insurance and regulate public health in favor of ‘promoting marriage’(p.173).For homosexual people, this approach merely added to the dominating, suffocating heteronormative culture they had already rejected.

Heteronormativity was and remains deeply embedded in mainstream US culture; a point Cooper somewhat skips over. For example, artist and activist David Wojnarowicz, who died in 1992 at age 37 from AIDS, was barred from an exhibition for being too political, prompting him to write: ‘I’m in the throes of facing my own mortality and in attempting to communicate what I’m expressing or learning in order to try and help others, I am effectively silenced. I am angry.’ (Andrea K. Scott, The New Yorker, May 21, 2018, p. 14). His comment suggests deep public aversion to homosexuality before it was legalized in the US. Furthermore, his comments suggest that the detailed policy research informing Family Values could be seen to lose site of the public culture in which reactionary movements are grounded: for example, the 30 percent of the US population who currently support Donald Trump’s Presidency.

The point, of course, is that the building blocks of an ideal private household were constructed around the liberated white heterosexual couple whose goal was self-managed wealth creation. And Cooper makes this point with a steadily evolving body of evidence, identifying how an incorporationist political economy moved across the spectrum of social and cultural life to remake US liberalism, as much through the ‘reinstitutionalization of religion’ (p. 295) as through ‘structural charity’ (p. 301) based on Christian prison reform and traditional home making.

Chapters in Family Values on student debt and faith-based welfare explain how the shifts in attitude and public policy were opportunistically built by capitalist interests after recessions and economic crises. The ‘reforms’ that followed economic and financial crises aimed at further reducing state support systems, nailing home the critical success factors of neoconservatism, while pointing to the political skill with which the movement consistently operated a double movement advanced by the historical sociologist Karl Polanyi: privileging familial virtue while simultaneously economizing that virtue as it was moved by public policy changes outside the purview of state responsibility. Consequently, neoliberalism in its association with neoconservatism became the coherent overarching system, as Jason Read defined it in ‘A Genealogy of Homo-Economicus: Neoliberalism and the Production of Subjectivity’:

Neoliberalism, in the texts that have critically confronted it, is generally understood as not just a new ideology, but a transformation of ideology in terms of its conditions and effects. In terms of its conditions, it is an ideology that is generated not from the state, or from a dominant class, but from the quotidian experience of buying and selling commodities from the market, which is then extended from other social spaces, ‘the marketplace of ideas,’ to become an image of society. Secondly, it is an ideology that refers not only to the political realm,to an ideal of the state,but to the entirety of human existence. It claims to present not an ideal, but a reality; human nature. (p. 25)

Hopefully, the claim that human nature is equated with neo-liberalism will be short lived, given how persuasively Cooper has shown that it is human agency that has been active in creating the current perversions of the culture of cruelty. After all, Social Darwinism is nothing but an invention, and a terrifying one at that. Cooper shows how, given Read’s definition of neo-liberalism, the negative social movements that consolidated around neoconservatism’s political economy have truncated thinking to an extent that gay marriage is considered a major victory in the struggle for that community’s emancipation. Such is the ideological success of the political re-enculturation program in the US, that other ways of living outside traditional marriage within the model of the heteronormative family escape the social imaginary.

All of which begs the question,what happened to Cultural Studies in this story? The answer, I suggest, is to be found in the rupture advanced by Larry Grossberg in his 1995 article ‘Cultural Studies vs Political Economy: Is Anybody Else Bored with this Debate?’ published in Critical Studies in Mass Communication. Grossberg took aim at the English policy researcher and Marxist Nicholas Garnham, who had insisted on the somewhat traditional, perhaps even reductionist, connection between political economy and culture, to which Grossberg objected on the grounds that ‘cultural studies and political economy…have always been divided over the terms of an adequate theory of culture and power’ (p. 72) and furthermore that Cultural Studies was unique in the way it proffered new critical insights about the interactions between economics and society. In hindsight, Grossberg’s priority was a bold, boundary-setting effort to corral Cultural Studies within the horizon of the United States imagination, cutting off political economy from an enriching exchange.

This disconnect between culture and political economy has been noticeable in the US approach to Cultural Studies largely because the lines of demarcation within the academy have been fiercely drawn in keeping with professional territoriality. As Cultural Studies established itself in the US academy, it isolated itself from interdisciplinary alliances that were necessary for its transformation into a mature academic field. Where US Cultural Studies could have been digging into the corners of public policy making, to engage with the political structures of The State, it generally did not: there was no Cultural Policy Studies moment in the US for this reason, unlike those formations in Australia in the mid-1990s, Western Europe or South America. And unfortunately, the isolation of US Cultural Studies took place within the context of systematic programs of regressive public policy making, leaving Cultural Studies insufficiently capable of resisting the reactionary political economy and its culture. It is this disconnect that Melinda Cooper’s Family Values explores, without explicitly naming the disarticulation and subsequent failure to engage at the nexus of political economy and public policy making that characterizes US Cultural Studies.

Indeed, Cooper’s book helps understand the implications that flowed from cutting the trajectory of Cultural Studies from how it was imagined by Raymond Williams, as a complex relationship between the structures of power and those of feeling. As Williams noted in the posthumous collection Resources of Hope, cited by Geoff Dyer in the Introduction to Political Studies and Letters: Interviews with New Left Review: ‘I learned the reality of hegemony, I learned the saturating power of the structures of feeling of a given society, as much from my own mind and my own experience as from observing the lives of others. All through our lives, if we make the effort, we uncover layers of this kind of alien formation in ourselves, and deep in ourselves’ (p. ix). At a slightly different register from the personal, political economy became the alien formation that was prematurely objected to by Grossberg, prioritizing US Cultural Studies around feeling, affect and power while generally evacuating the structural connections to public policy and political economy. This is not to suggest that Grossberg dismissed economics and public policy making entirely. For example, in 1998 Anne Balsamo arranged a workshop forum in Atlanta about Cultural Studies and economics, led by Balsamo and Grossberg and attended by a small cohort of interested colleagues, including Will Straw and myself. But the event did not assuage my concerns that aggressively pushing away political economy denied US Cultural Studies the capacity to comprehend the alien formations in the US structures of everyday life, in something like the framework envisioned by Williams, and informed by critical research undertaken by Cooper.

Despite such limitations, Cultural Studies has been ensconced, albeit precariously, in US universities after achieving its institutionalization: an achievement that Williams suggested would be the measure of its success. Unfortunately, he did not have US culture in mind when he invoked this kind of aspiration for Cultural Studies. If Williams had known more about the way professional boundary riding takes place in universities within US liberal democracy, especially given the disciplinary strictures of Protestant hegemonic culture, his aspirations may have been more circumspect. (Thanks to Kathryn Montalbano for introducing me to this phrase). This is to say Cultural Studies in the US academy has been incorporated into the system of management and tenure that is unique to US university life. It is a system that relies on professional claims by tenured academics to make and maintain the boundaries of their ‘discipline,’ often in ways that are counterproductive to the interdisciplinary capacity of critical knowledge production, especially in a field such as Cultural Studies.

Nevertheless, many years later, Cultural Studies is predictably fragmented. In some cases, this resulted from the way political economy hived off into Cultural Policy Studies and more recently into the neo-positivist backwaters of Cultural and Media Economic Studies, areas of research whose liberal economistic fetishizations are mostly a world away from the critical engagement that excited many of us when Cultural Policy Studies emerged. In effect, after the breech with political economy, US Cultural Studies was effectively emasculated as a force for public policy research through informed debate around political economy. These ruptures, breaks, realignments and redirections ran alongside an academic professionalizing impulse to discipline the field, and in so doing, refuse engagements with what became the alien formations of public policy making and political economy. Cultural Studies, in the United States especially, has been the poorer for it.

As an academic enterprise, the focus of Cultural Studies was and is outstanding academic work, much of which was and is exemplary – as academic work. Within this formation, another identifiable limitation of US Cultural Studies is the stymied logic of its connection with social movements, motivated as they are by political economic grievances. Articulating social movement research to political economy and public policy engagement within US Cultural Studies is a black hole, as the absence of this connection in Cooper’s book also indicates. Perhaps Grossberg was on to something after all, when he forced the rupture with political economy? In other words, in the US there were and are too few avenues available for academics to bring Cultural Studies into public policy making through a direct connection with political economy and social movements because the segmentation of the society is bounded, while the politics is parochial and territorial–as one of the most insurgent Cultural Policy Studies mavens Colin Mercer often noted before his untimely death in 2013.

As someone uniquely experienced in Australian, US and global public policy analysis and political economy, I am the first to acknowledge that the difference between doing Cultural Studies in the US and doing it in Australia and Europe is as different as Wales was to Cambridge University for Raymond Williams, or Princeton University was to Toni Morrison’s childhood in Ohio. Nevertheless in Australia and Europe, it has been possible to engage in public policy making informed by political economy and Cultural Studies – while in the US, the boundaries bar entry to anyone not moving through the ‘proper’ circles, also known as revolving doors.

These missing articulations mean that US Cultural Studies has a great deal of catching up to do, reconnecting its focus on culture with political economy and public policy making. Or to put it in a somewhat more literary form, it needs to articulate, as Williams term above suggested, the alien formations of political economy, public policy making and social movements with the core of the project, while simultaneously embodying the other meaning of articulation: Cultural Studies needs to generate a public maneuver with which to speak about the ideological forces that determine the structures of life. To return to Williams, writing in ‘Base, Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory,’ the pressing necessity of cultural research is in identifying the workings of determinism, as forces of ‘prefiguration, prediction and control.’ Of course, this may be precisely what the disarticulation of Cultural Studies from political economy was about–apost-structuralist move away from the determining economic structures of the base and therefore not creating, as Louis Althusser suggested, the continents of theory required to critique and overthrow the ISAs on the path to socialism.

Unfortunately, Cultural Studies seems to have had little to offer when confronted with the application of neoliberalism and its neo-conservative foundations in the US. Certainly, it has tried to develop a critique, and in some cases in which it has established a presence in the academy, it has succeeded, but the success of the neo-conservative and reactionary movements has meant that US culture has changed. If it is possible to say ‘thankfully’ in these parlous days, then thankfully some alternatives have managed to succeed. One such alternative is the continuation of Cultural Studies as an academic enterprise, along with some environmental activism and LGBTQ+ liberation and ACTUP, even though as Cooper shows, the success is deeply qualified, even circumscribed by the boundaries set by neo-liberalism. One productive option would be to consistently act at the intersection of Cultural Studies and its alliances with political economy and social movement theory, in a commitment to stop the programmatic invention of unliberal traditions in an increasingly cruel United States.

Marcus Breen
Communication Department, Boston College, 350 St Mary’s Hall South, 140 Commonwealth Avenue, Chestnut Hill, MA, USA 02469
© 2018 Marcus Breen

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Art, podcasting, high cosmopolitanism

What does a podcast do? Recently, I recorded a podcast for the McMullen Museum at Boston College. It was a conversational interaction with my Communication Department colleague Celeste Wells. For just over 20 enjoyable minutes we discussed two paintings in the current exhibition Nature's Mirror: Reality and Symbol in Belgium Landscape.  

This is a tremendously diverse display of what might be termed high-cosmopolitanism, in so far as its chronological scope stretches from wood prints made during the early days of the printing press in the sixteenth century to early twentieth century paintings.

As high cosmopolitanism it offers a perspective of a diverse Belgium, as cities and towns emerged in the formative days of capitalism, through to the First World War. As "art" it is "high" in the way Raymond Williams defined high culture - art on gallery walls within boundaries that are learned within formal culture and privilege. As high cosmopolitanism it offers representations about the way of life of diverse peoples, whose class and cultural orientations are mostly coexistent. Their "structures of feeling" (to take another Williams term) are shown in the unfolding social consciousness of the many ways of life of the people and places depicted. 

The current exhibition  is as good as anything I have seen in a traditional museum setting.

Celeste discussed  Léon Spilliaert's (1881-1946), “Scene of War,” 1917. I discussed Eugèbe-Joseph Verboeckhoven's (1799-1881), “Mountainous Landscape with Bridge,” n.d.

Images of the paintings are in the link to the podcast.

Podcasts are all the go! And as I note in my contribution to the podcast, one of the reasons I chose the bridge was because of the way it described technology as a means by which humans communicate - in this case, a structure as a means of transport for communication purposes. The technology of the bridge saves time in traversing the valley, allowing messengers to deliver information more quickly, yet to me, the bridge is about the fragility of surviving a crossing on the rickety structure. Due to the bridge, people move through space in shorter amounts of time. The impact on human life, in creating civilization through engineering feats like a spidery bridge, was and is significant.

A similar point was made by the American culture and communication historian James Carey in Communication as Culture, where he referred to the invention of the telegraph as the way to restructure social and commercial life, which changed space and time.

Back to the podcast: Podcasts involve hearing, which is almost an olfactory sense, such is its richness. Perhaps the currency that podcasts are experiencing in the present moment is due to the way they draw listeners in through aural sensibility, to massage the part of the human brain that has not been adequately stimulated in the face of the visual onslaught of the always-on screen. Think about the dominance of the screen: the "pixilated people" as I once somewhat critically suggested, are primarily about a visual experience based on optic nerve sensations.

The podcast removes the obsessional visual characteristic from the calculation of digitally delivered information services. Instead, it offers a way to knowledge that requires listening as a singular mode of information delivery. In this sense, I am reminded of "Following You: Disciplines of Listening in Social Media" an article by my fellow Australian Kate Crawford, who describes listening as an analogy for how Social Media is utilized. She suggested a range of potential ways for listening: the most relevant is where Social Media engages listeners in reciprocal and receptive attention to each other. This was fine (and is still relevant) in 2009 when Crawford published the article.

In 2017 conditions have altered. Now podcasts create, directed listening and less reciprocal listening, where the the full attention of the listener's aural capacity is called upon, with not much expectation for a digital or on-line reaction. It is difficult to imagine a podcast being successful. It is not a Twitter or instant messaging or Social Media system, previously defined, in which the interactive commentary, the conversations, are what have salience.

In contrast, there is a somewhat reactionary characteristic to podcasts - its directedness is structured around highly attentive listening to one way speech. It reduces the social in Social Media by offering mobility to the spoken word. It shares this with the Walkman which took music to the streets, moving it out of the lounge room, the bedroom, and concert hall into the private space of the listeners' headphones. It changed the culture, and as Stuart Hall and a group of authors noted in Doing Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman, that little device had a big impact on culture. Unfortunately, I would suggest that its impact includes a negation of social interaction even social life itself, as it privileged individual consumption and aural pleasure over sociality. (I am interested in the shifting definitions of  private and public, mostly because the success of private culture reduces, even denies the capacity for shared, collective social life).   

As usual, the analysis is complex.The aural intensity of podcasts continue the richness the Walkman offered, as well as the negation. Both technologies share a focus on aural intensity while cutting off the possibility for community interaction by delaying reactions to speech. 

Despite these misgivings, a podcast offers a way to explore negotiated meanings within art for listeners. 

And I want to enthusiastically suggest that any opportunity to identify and reflect through speech on the high cosmopolitanism of Nature's Mirror is welcome. The exhibition offers the chance to reflect on Belgian social life, drawing attention to historical knowledge about art and society, as well as offering an appreciation for the important work artists do in responding to the world while reflecting on how the world looks many years later.

Here are some questions abut podcasts:

What is a listening community? What does a listening community look like when the verbiage is about art? Can ideas be brought from the history of listening to music that will inform an understanding of podcasts?


Friday, February 3, 2017

The Tweetering President's Praccess on Social Media

In my 2011 book Uprising: The Internet's Unintended Consequences, unregulated interactive communication through the Internet was presented as a public policy reform that would unleash remarkable energy forces for change. The shift in the simple transport of digital information would bring into circulation unregulated expressions of life and culture, or proletarianization.

My use  "proletarianization" reflected that hyper-fast global capitalism wanted all and every culture and any idea to be in free digital circulation. In this unregulated form, free ideas would transform the world, while the increase in traffic and users would contribute to the growth and maintenance of capital. It appears that is where we are at.

The transformation of the world has been determined by the singularity of Internet communication, or Network Society according to Manuel Castells. From December 1995 with 16 million users to September 2016 with 3.7 billion, the Internet connects everyone within the global communication system. This US-centric enterprise merges a US world view of consumerist progress with liberal democracy.

President Trump has used Twitter to engage with these users, not everyone of whom is on Twitter, or reading his tweets. Nevertheless, the main feature of the Tweetering President is his direct access to the public. Set against a historical system of US government in which several institutions managed, manipulated then released statements from presidents, usually as Press Releases and statements to television audiences, the action of President Trump redefines "access." I call it "Praccess," direct Presidential access to any citizen who users the Twitter platform.. Indeed, anyone with access to the Internet is able to experience direct communication from Trump.

Access to Information (ATI), also describes this new practice. As the South African academic Richard Calland suggests, ATI serves "egalitarian socio-economic interests." He was correct - the egalitarian instinct deployed in the Trump Praccess connects directly to citizens even as it denies them other rights. (Dropping environmental protections, for example).  

"Praccess" is a play on "praxis," a term that was used in European left, Frankfurt School, social, educational and liberal contexts to describe action aimed at changing society. The summary in Wikipedia indicates the scope of its utility, and connects Praccess to the emerging tradition of Trumpian social transformation. Time will tell if "Praccess" proves to be more radical than many theorists of praxis ever imagined.

Certainly there are suggestions that it is more radical. By the end of his first couple of weeks in office, President Trump's Praccess moved swiftly to assert change, drawing on a curious communicative turn to legitimize his right to make policy as the elected leader and to channel those rights directly to the public.  

Praccess could be anticipated before the leading man's ascension to the presidency. For example, in a detailed Legal Analysis of Trump's legitimacy to govern, Eisen, Painter and Tribe published THE EMOLUMENTS CLAUSE: ITS TEXT, MEANING, AND APPLICATION TO DONALD J. TRUMP, on December 16, 2016.

Before Praccess and before the inauguration, their analysis seemed extreme. However, they offered a perspective that did not fully appreciate how Praccess and ATI would play out. (And how could they?)
Since Election Day, Mr. Trump has issued a series of statements describing in vague terms how he might address his multifarious conflicts of interest. Many of these statements have taken the form of Tweets, because 140-character missives are apparently the newnormal for carrying out governmental and constitutional business.

As the "new normal," Praccess allows government business to elide into the personal communication of the man in charge. This new approach is weird in its unconventionality. 

Look for example at the way Dalia Grybauskaitė, the Lithuanian president, characterized how European Union officials interact with the Administration: “I don’t think there is a necessity for a bridge. We communicate with the Americans on Twitter.”

At another register entirely is the way Twitter has made Praccess a site for interactions between the President and anyone - not only US citizens. The entire globe of Internet users is involved, thereby dramatically changing the idea of citizenship itself. 

Consider that there was a time when domestic US politics was restricted to its geographical borders. Growing up in Australia I did not see US Presidential Press Conferences on television, or hear excerpts from the weekly radio broadcasts, or know about the self-serving statements by US Presidents about what was good for America. The Internet made it possible for US television, CNN and MSNBC especially, radio and now all things Praccessable to be part of the global discourse. Citizenship did not look like this before, as we waited for the institutions of government to parse then display the greatness of presidential power.    

This shift, the global incorporation of the global citizen into Praccess, is a high risk venture which exposes everyone to the free flow of opinion, invective and anger. 

For example, Former Mexican President, Vincente Fox Quesada took to Twitter in response to Trump, escalating to a new level interactions between heads of state and former heads of state.
Sean Spicer, I've said this to and now I'll tell you: Mexico is not going to pay for that fucking wall.
Free ideas in the context of Praccess are approaching the end point of the claims Internet advocates like John Perry Barlow made 20 years ago for the free flow of information in his Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace.   

“I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us.” ...  “You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.”

A helpful 20 year review in WIRED  magazine in 2016 is worth reading to see how Internet missionaries like Barlow stayed with the project. Will Praccess change Barlow's view? After all, Praccess is government fully engaging with, even embodying the Internet. 

The instincts playing out within proletarianization on the Internet are becoming more barbaric. Praccess is a direct form of address to citizens, with few historical connections to established methods of interpersonal address. It is as if everyone accepts the shift to direct 140 character speech, no "Please" or "Thank you" ever!  

As such, Praccess is nothing more than the claims of a president seeking to unmake a nation of its liberal achievements. The Internet as observed in Twitter is at least achieving its ambition. An Uprising indeed!